You should have a locking cable release — most of these, nowadays, come with the ability to ‘lock’ into position, so depressing the button on the cable release will lock the shutter open. Even though practically all modern cable releases have this locking ability, (they didn’t all used to!) if you’re interested in shooting nighttime photography, you’ll need such a cable release, and you’ll need to make sure the one you choose has the ability to ‘lock’ the camera shutter open indefinitely.
With such a locking cable release you can achieve the effect of what’s known as either a ‘T’ (time) or sometimes a ‘B’ or ‘bulb’ setting, Set your camera for ‘B’, or ‘manual mode’, depending on your particular camera’s terminology, press the cable release and lock it. To complete the exposure, unlock and release the cable release’s button.
A rainy night in the city is great for photography. Search for puddles and expanses of wet pavement that reflect neon signs, shop windows, and lights from passing cars. Precise exposure under these conditions can be difficult to determine, but absolute precision is not really necessary with night photography. A fairly wide range of exposures should give you acceptable results. For a start, try 1/60 of a second at f/2.8 and ISO 100, or 1/125 of a second f/2.8 at ISO 200. But, bracket your exposures!
Don’t have a tripod with you? You can still make steady timed exposures of subjects at night if you’re careful. Find a solid support for your camera — a fence post, the hood of a car, or a railing. If you need to tilt the camera, place a stick, a book, or folded handkerchief under an edge of your camera to give it the desired angle. Use a cable release and avoid accidentally jarring the camera during the exposure. A tripod’s much better, of course, but with this makeshift method you sometimes can get good night shots you’d otherwise miss.
Beware of over exposing your shots In night photography. It may sound paradoxical, perhaps, but the reason is simple. In making a timed exposure of a lighted building after dark, for example, many photographers tend to be overly generous because of the darkness. As a result, the brightly lighted areas become blocked up and lose precious detail. Your goal should be to obtain maximum detail in the important illuminated areas of the picture, and let the dark areas go as they will. Unless you’ve had considerable experience, bracketing is always desirable. Try three exposures: one of the estimated proper time, then on at half that time, and one at twice that amount of time.
Moving light weaves patterns and adds a dynamic touch to night photography. Find a location near a busy city street or highway and set up your camera on a tripod. Select a moment when the traffic is moving and make an ordinary timed exposure. The longer your shutter is open (and the faster the cars are moving), the longer the streaks of light will be.
When taking flash pictures outdoors at night (at a cookout, poolside party, or what have you) remember to give more exposure than you would indoors. Indoor light is reflected by surrounding walls and ceilings. Outdoors, it scatters to infinity and the usable light falling on your subject is considerably reduced. Open up at least one more stop than with the same flash power, subject and flash distance than you would indoors.
Pictures by moonlight are always an interesting item for conversation and an unexpected change of pace in a slide-show. Choose a clear night with a full or nearly full moon. Find a scene with strong, simple shapes clearly silhouetted against the sky — such as trees, a house, or a building with an interesting roof-line. Include the moon in your picture. Use a tripod and try an exposure of 15 to 20 seconds at around 400ISO as a start, then bracket this exposure.
For way-out abstractions, try this technique: Find some lighted signs against a dark background. Set your camera for a timed exposure and focus on the lights. Open the shutter and move the camera. Then close the shutter. You can create interesting patterns by the way you control your camera’s movement. Jiggle it up and down. Swing it in an arc. Follow an S-shaped path. Make smooth, easy motions and fast, jerky, irregular ones.
Estimating exposure under most night conditions is difficult because the lighting itself can vary so greatly. In fact, precision is not usually possible. Trial and error will give the basis for more accurate judgment, and bracketing your shots will increase the odds that you get at least one good shot. A useful tip is to set the aperture to f/2.8 and the shutter speed to the equivalent of the ISO rating you wish to shoot at, then drop the shutter speed down to the next lowest available setting — so, if you want to shoot at ISO 200, you’d want a shutter speed of 1/200 of second, then drop to the next lowest setting, which would be 1/125 of a second. So, your ‘quick-and-dirty-rule-of-thumb’ image would be taken at f/2.8, 1/125th of a second, ISO 200. Then you’d bracket your exposure by shooting one picture using those settings, and one with the shutter speed dropped down to 1/60th of a second, and a third shot with the shutter speed raised to 1/250th of a second.